On the Notion of 'Failure' in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Consideration of Joelle van Dyne's Character and the Figure of St. Teresa of Avila

Matthew Alexander


David Foster Wallace's magnum opusInfinite Jest, celebrated its 20th anniversary of publication in 2016. Yet in spite of two decades of critical analysis little attention is given to the female characters within. Delfino (2008) cites 'one or two strong [female] characters that cannot help but influence the male protagonists in the novel', without expanding upon this, whilst Freudenthal (2010) speaks of Wallace's female characters as having a 'political clout [that] goes no further than their domestic spheres'. Such failure on the part of critics leads to an incomplete consideration of Wallace's text. This paper sets about redressing the balance through a reading of Joelle van Dyne's character and Wallace's use of the veil, and the link that this has with an historical figure known for her donning of the veil: St. Teresa of Avila. Clare Hayes-Brady's recent work (2016) on 'failures' in Wallace's work will be used as a tool with which to analyse Joelle's/St. Teresa's inclusion in the text, and it will be argued that the issue of veiling, a practice that Hirschmann (1998) views as 'Other to most Westerners', helps to reveal the extent to which Wallace's female characters have indeed been overlooked by critics. In doing so, a new consideration of Wallace's texts may emerge.

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